He was a relatively successful photojournalist. "When you have a wife and children," I told him, "You're going to have to add to your income with commercial shooting assignments. Editorial just doesn't pay enough."
He pointed out that he shared an inexpensive flat with several other photographers who were always on the road too, and he already had to do about 50% of his work as a commercial shooter. I wiped the drool off my lips and felt terribly old.
The truth is that many young photojournalists don't make the day rate that many of us droolers were making 10 years ago---nor do they have the benefits. But, far more important, vital stories are being reduced to a few inoffensive pictures. And, the assignment time needed to do those stories well is also being reduced.
Photojournalism has to offer more than the thrill of getting into football games for free, and impressing members of the opposite sex by taking their picture without a flash. Yet, one of the reasons the pay and presentation is minimal is that so many people are willing to work under these conditions that, if someone doesn't want the job, it's easy to find another photographer who does.
So, are all photojournalists incredibly stupid? Not necessarily. Many are simply storytellers, tellers of fables that teach little lessons. Let me explain.
Get rid of the notion that the photographic coverage of important issues is objective. It's not that it is objective or nonobjective. The term doesn't make any sense when referring to an image. Coverage is also not northern, or parked, or naked, or orange. Just because you can say something, or some editor demands it, doesn't mean it makes sense.
A good reporter writes: 118 people were killed in the battle at so-and-so on such-and-such. A good war picture just makes you want to throw up. The moral of your fable? Killing people is really ugly.
Being able to tell these stories means more to the storyteller than almost anything else. Since the paper or magazine has decided that a picture of one of the soldiers rescuing a kitten, abandoned in the war, is the event that should be illustrated, where does the storyteller go to tell stories?
Some movie makers, not all, are tellers of fables. Nobody wants to be preached at, so the movie maker says, "Come sit in the dark, in a comfortable chair. Look at my pictures of pretty women and heroic men. You'll enjoy my story." And when you are off your guard, he smacks you hard with something important. It's difficult to accept the fact that Clint Eastwood's movie "Unforgiven," reached further into people's guts with the simple moral that killing people has its downside, than most stories based in "reality."
Of course, movies are group efforts. You're part of a team. Not all people go for this. Some people like to work solo---there are books, even exhibits. But, Dirck says that for the solo artist, the Web will be the place. I'm not sure I agree with him. True, it has the big audience storytellers like. But we've got to get rid of slow phone lines that deliver pictorial information at a deadening creep.
We have to improve picture quality. And, most important, we have to add to the ways information can be stored to give immediate and random access, where you can look at the last picture in a story first---and do it while you're in the bathroom. Magazines and books have that now. The Web will be at a disadvantage until it has immediate, random access.
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